Shiver, page 8part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
“I don’t want to go back. ” The agony in his words immediately transported me to a memory: a wolf standing in silent grief before me. The boy’s body jerked, a weird, unnatural movement that hurt to think about. “Don’t—don’t let me change. ”
I laid a second, bigger dishcloth over his body, covering the goose bumps as best I could. In any other context, I would’ve been embarrassed by his nakedness, but here, his skin smeared with blood and dirt, it just made his condition seem more pitiful. My words were gentle, as though he might still leap up and run. “What’s your name?”
He groaned softly, one hand shaking just a bit as he held the cloth against his neck. It was already soaked through with his blood, and a thin red trail ran along his jaw and dripped to the floor. Lowering himself slowly to the floor, he laid his cheek against the wood, his breath clouding the shiny finish. “Sam. ”
He closed his eyes.
“Sam,” I repeated. “I’m Grace. I’m going to go start my dad’s car. I have to take you to the hospital. ”
He shuddered. I had to lean very close to hear his voice. “Grace—Grace, I—”
I only waited a second for him to finish. When he didn’t, I jumped up and grabbed the keys from the counter. I still couldn’t quite believe that he wasn’t my own invention—years of wishing made real. But whatever he was, he was here now, and I wasn’t about to lose him.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN • SAM
I was not a wolf, but I wasn’t Sam yet, either.
I was a leaking womb bulging with the promise of conscious thoughts: the frozen woods far behind me, the girl on the tire swing, the sound of fingers on metal strings. The future and the past, both the same, snow and then summer and then snow again.
A shattered spider’s web of many colors, cracked in ice, immeasurably sad.
“Sam,” the girl said. “Sam. ”
She was past present future. I wanted to answer, but I was broken.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN • GRACE
It’s rude to stare, but the great thing about staring at a sedated person is that they don’t know you’re doing it. And the truth was, I couldn’t stop staring at Sam. If he’d gone to my school, he probably would’ve been dismissed as an emo kid or maybe a long-lost member of the Beatles. He had that sort of moptop black hair and interestingly shaped nose that a girl could never get away with. He looked nothing like a wolf, but everything like my wolf. Even now, without his familiar eyes open, a little part of me kept jumping with irrational glee, reminding myself—it’s him.
“Oh, honey, are you still here? I thought you’d left. ”
I turned as the green curtains parted to admit a broad-shouldered nurse. Her name tag read SUNNY.
“I’m staying until he wakes up. ” I held on to the side of the hospital bed as if to prove how difficult it would be to remove me.
Sunny smiled pityingly at me. “He’s been heavily sedated, hon. He won’t wake up until the morning. ”
I smiled back at her, my voice firm. “Then that’s how long I’m staying. ” I’d already waited hours while they removed the bullet and stitched the wound; it had to be after midnight by now. I kept waiting to feel sleepy, but I was wired. Every time I saw him it was like another jolt. It occurred to me, belatedly, that my parents hadn’t bothered to call my cell phone when they got back from Mom’s gallery opening. They probably hadn’t even noticed the bloody towel I’d used to hurriedly wipe up the floor, or the fact that Dad’s car was missing. Or maybe they just hadn’t gotten home yet. Midnight was early for them.
Sunny’s smile stayed in place. “Okay, then,” she said. “You know, he’s awfully lucky. For the bullet to just graze him?” Her eyes glittered. “Do you know why he did it?”
I frowned at her, nerves prickling. “I don’t follow. Why he was in the woods?”
“Hon, you and I both know he wasn’t in the woods. ”
I raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to say something else, but she didn’t. I said, “Uh, yeah. He was. A hunter accidentally shot him. ” It wasn’t a lie. Well, all but the “accidentally” part. I was pretty confident it was no accident.
Sunny clucked. “Look—Grace, isn’t it? Grace, are you his girlfriend?”
I grunted in a way that could be interpreted as either yes or no, depending on how the listener was leaning.
Sunny took it as a yes. “I know you’re really close to the situation, but he does need help. ”
Realization dawned on me. I almost laughed. “You think he shot himself. Look—Sunny, isn’t it? Sunny, you’re wrong. ”
The nurse glared at me. “Do you think we’re stupid? That we wouldn’t notice this?” On the other side of the bed, she took Sam’s limp arms and turned them so his palms faced toward the ceiling in a silent entreaty. She gestured at the scars on his wrists, memories of deep, purposeful wounds that should’ve been lethal.
I stared at them, but they were like words in a foreign language. They meant nothing to me. I shrugged. “Those are from before I knew him. I’m just telling you he didn’t try and shoot himself tonight. It was some insane hunter. ”
“Sure, hon. Fine. Let me know if you need anything. ” Sunny glared at me before backing out of the curtain and leaving me alone with Sam.
Face flushed, I shook my head and stared at my white-knuckled grip on the bed. Of all my pet peeves, condescending adults were probably at the top of the list.
A second after Sunny was gone, Sam’s eyes flicked open, and I jumped out of my skin, heart pounding in my ears. It took a long moment of staring at him for my pulse to return to normal. Logic told me to read his eyes as hazel, but really, they were still yellow, and they were definitely fixed on me.
My voice came out a lot quieter than I meant it to. “You’re supposed to be asleep. ”
“Who are you?” His voice had the same complicated, mournful tone I remembered from his howl. He narrowed his eyes. “Your voice seems so familiar. ”
Pain flickered through me. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might not remember his time as a wolf. I didn’t know what the rules were for this. Sam reached his hand toward mine, and I automatically put my fingers in his. With a guilty little smile, he pulled my hand toward his nose and took a sniff, and then another one. His smile widened, though it was still shy. It was absolutely adorable, and my breath got caught somewhere in my throat. “I know that smell. I didn’t recognize you; you look different. I’m sorry. I feel stupid for not remembering. It takes a couple hours for me—for my brain—to come back. ”
He didn’t release my fingers, and I didn’t take them away, even though it was hard to concentrate with his skin against mine. “Come back from what?”
“Come back from when,” he corrected. “Come back from when I was…”
Sam waited. He wanted me to say it. It was harder than I thought it would be, to admit it out loud, even though it shouldn’t have been.
“When you were a wolf,” I whispered. “Why are you here?”
“Because I was shot,” he said pleasantly.
“I meant like this. ” I gestured toward his body, so clearly human underneath the silly hospital gown.
He blinked. “Oh. Because it’s spring. Because it’s warm. Warm makes me me. Makes me Sam. ”
I finally pulled my hand away and closed my eyes, trying to gather what was left of my sanity for a moment. When I opened my eyes and spoke, I said the most mundane thing possible. “It’s not spring. It’s September. ”
I’m not the best at reading people, but I thought I saw a glimmer of anxiety behind his eyes before they cleared. “That’s not good,” he remarked. “Can I ask you a favor?”
I had to close my eyes again at the sound of his voice, because it shouldn’t have been familiar, but it was, speaking to me on some deep level just like his eyes always had as a wolf. It was turning out to be more difficult to accept this than I’d thought. I opened my eyes. He was s
He laughed. “Are you having an epileptic fit? Maybe you should be in this bed. ”
I glared at him, and he turned bright red as he realized another meaning for his words. I spared him from his mortification by answering his question. “What’s the favor?”
“I, uh, need some clothing. I need to get out of here before they figure out I’m a freak. ”
“How do you mean? I didn’t see a tail. ”
Sam reached up and began to pry at the edge of the dressings on his neck.
“Are you crazy?” I reached forward and grabbed at his hand, too late. He peeled away the gauze to reveal four new stitches dotting a short line through old scar tissue. There was no fresh wound still oozing blood, no evidence of the gunshot except for the pink, shiny scar. My jaw dropped.
Sam smiled, clearly pleased by my reaction. “See, don’t you think they’d suspect something?”
“But there was so much blood—”
“Yeah. My skin just couldn’t heal when it was bleeding so much. Once they stitched me up—” He shrugged and made a little gesture with his hands, like he was opening a small book. “Abracadabra. There are some perks to being me. ” His words were light, but his expression was anxious, watching me, seeing how I was taking all this. How I was taking the fact of his existence.
“Okay, I just have to see something here,” I told him. “I just—” I stepped forward and touched the end of my fingers to the scar tissue on his neck. Somehow feeling the smooth, firm skin convinced me in a way that his words couldn’t. Sam’s eyes slid to my face and away again, unsure of where to look while I felt the lump of old scar beneath the prickling black sutures. I let my hand linger on his neck for slightly longer than necessary, not on the scar, but on the smooth, wolf-scented skin beside it. “Okay. So obviously you need to leave before they look at it. But if you sign out against medical advice or just take off, they’ll try to track you down. ”
He made a face. “No, they won’t. They’ll just figure I’m some derelict without insurance. Which is true. Well, the insurance part. ”
So much for being subtle. “No, they’ll think you left to avoid counseling. They think you shot yourself because of—”
Sam’s face was puzzled.
I pointed to his wrists.
“Oh, that. I didn’t do that. ”
I frowned at him again. I didn’t want to say something like, “It’s okay, you have an excuse” or “You can tell me, I won’t judge,” because, really, that’d be just as bad as Sunny, assuming that he’d tried to kill himself. But it wasn’t as though he could’ve gotten those scars tripping on the stairs.
He rubbed a thumb over one of his wrists, thoughtful. “My mom did this one. Dad did the other one. I remember they counted backward so they’d do it at the same time. I still can’t stand to look at a bathtub. ”